Pedagaggi is a teeny village — in the northern foothills of Sicily's Monti Iblei — which overlooks the plain of Catania, and Mount Etna beyond. I camped it rough in a spot about ½ an hour north of Pedagaggi this evening, and I rode through the village the following morning.
There may not be many other reasons to visit Catania: but this alone should make the city a "must" for anyone in the area. While passing through Catania this morning, I stopped at a very upmarket cafe on the city's seashore promenade, that proudly advertises letting you choose from 32 different types of chocolate, to be used in making you a hot choc. I was sold in two seconds flat. I walked in, closed my eyes, picked a number, and ordered no. 17. I really doubt that it would have mattered which number I'd chosen, though: I'd say they were all just as divine as each other. I also ordered a truly decadent, cream-filled cannoli pastry — all this was about double the price of the average morning coffee stop; but hey, sometimes you just gotta live life, and love life.
Catania is Sicily's second-largest city (after Palermo), and one of the island's most crowded and traffic-infested. It's not high on the average tourist agenda — but like so many big and ugly cities, it's often near-impossible to avoid. This morning, my route up the east coast of Sicily led me through Catania: and I decided that seeing as I was in the area, I might as well at least check it out, and see what the place has to offer. So I came, I saw, I got lost, and I eventually found my way out.
I quickly ate breakfast and packed up this morning — in my field near Pedagaggi that I camped in last night — then managed to sneak out of the farm unobserved (despite the occupants of the farm going along their driveway again, just before I left). As I continued riding north, downhill out of the Monti Iblei, I was greeted with a bitter morning cold (explained by the fact that I was on the road at 8am), but also by lovely, rolling farmland scenery. The other amazing scenery that greeted me, was that which I first saw yesterday afternoon: the Plain of Catania stretching away below me, and colossal Mt. Etna looming on the horizon. I'm going to be seeing Etna all day today; but regardless, I highly doubt that I'll get sick of the view. Put simply, it's a bloody big, bloody nice mountain.
While camped in my field near Pedagaggi this evening, I was cooking up some dinner in my tent, when I caused a lightning-quick and most disturbing accident. I turned on my little gas cooker (i.e. opened the gas valve, used a cigarette lighter to ignite it), and a massive flame shot out of it, ½ a metre straight up in the air. And this was inside my tent! The flame usually leaps out a little bit when you first ignite it — but not this much. Needless to say, the flame touched the walls of my tent: and it burnt a hole right through my front tent flap. Fortunately, the hole wasn't too big — only about 20cm in diameter — so I was able to patch it up (as an interim measure), with a large tract of trusty 'ol duct tape. The hole is sealed for now, but I'll have to get it fixed properly when I return home next year.
Soon after my first ever view of Mt. Etna this afternoon, I turned off the road that follows the northern ridge of the Monti Iblei to Sortino, and took a lesser road that winds north out of the mountains, towards the tiny foothill village of Pedagaggi. At this point, it was getting rather dark, and it was well within my standard rough-campsite lookout period of 4:30-5pm daily. I was fortunate enough to find a suitable spot almost immediately after taking the Pedagaggi turnoff: a little farm just next to the road, which had a packed-dirt driveway leading down to the house (with the gate wide open); and a grassy area to the right of the driveway, which was shielded from view of the house by a little hill, and which was also reasonably hidden from the main road. I was also doubly lucky, because — although I didn't know it at the time — there was nothing nearly as good further down the road, when I continued the ride the next morning.
Once I'd returned to Ferla this afternoon — from my visit to Pantálica — I took the road north out of the "valley of Pantálica" area, and up onto the ridge that comprises the north edge of the Monti Iblei. I'd originally planned to head west to the village of Buccheri this afternoon, and to spend the evening near or beyond there; but upon reaching the north ridge, I decided that it was getting too late in the day (about 4:15pm), and that Buccheri was too much extra ascent (the town is marked on my map as being several hundred metres higher than Ferla). So instead I turned east, and headed along the ridge road towards Sortino. Along the way, I turned my gaze north: and boy, was I greeted with a vista and a half! Spread out below me was the broad, flat expanse of the Plain of Catania; and beyond it, rising up out of the horizon like a stone monster, I had my first sweeping view of Mt. Etna — the highest mountain in Sicily, and the tallest active volcano in all of Europe.
Deep in the mountains of south-eastern Sicily, there is a place of ancient and foreboding mystery. The place is called Pantálica: a giant necropolis consisting of thousands of tombs, in the form of body-sized holes cut into the sides of sheer cliffs and precipitous rocky overhangs; and constructed around 2,500 years ago by a civilisation that we know almost nothing about, and that has long since vanished from the face of the Earth. Pantálica would have to be one of the most bizarre, the most isolated, and the most disturbing places that I've visited on my world trip so far. Most fittingly, the necropolis can only be reached by one long and winding road, that stretches tenuously to the site and back again — the only way in, and also the only way out. This afternoon, I headed east from the village of Ferla, and boldly embarked upon this road. It was a strange and lonely journey: but I lived to tell the tale.